Hot Buttered Rum @ Mexicali Blues 06.18.2009

I have been jonesing for some bluegrass since my Del Fest cut short and thank the lord that the Hot Buttered Rum boys booked a date close by in Jersey.  As soon as I saw that they announced this show I immediately purchased myself a ticket.  I saw these guys on the most recent NYE out in CO.  I was thoroughly impressed.  They have just recently fused themselves with a drummer.  I first saw this incarnation out in CO.  I was really impressed how they sounded.  Their mandolin player just recently left and I was used to him.  Zac left the band for his own reasons and he sure would be missed.  They were a straight up kick ass bluegrass band.  They have morphed the drums into that hootin’ and hollerin’ bluegrass very well.

I have seen HBR four times over the years.  There has been one steady characteristic that has really cemented the love that I have for this band.  All of the members can be seen chatting away with fans before, middle, and after the show.  The second time I saw them up in Saratoga Springs the band was explaining how their Veggie Oil bus works during set break.  They are hanging out with the fans like they not even the band.  It is awesome to see them walking amongst the crowd.  This time was no different.

The venue had the tables out for dinner towards the back, but their still was very little room to dance.  Their was only about 2o to 30 people actually up dancing in the front of the stage, so our small space felt wide open.  This is the perfect band to see in such an intimate setting.  You feel so close to them right next to the stage.  You see their emotions and feel their energy from the stage.  It is like a wave and it makes me grin from ear to ear.  I am not too versed in HBR songs, but I will try my best.  The band started about 9:30 PM.

It is different trying to listen to them with drums.  It is kind of strange for any bluegrass band to be playing with drums.  I saw Yonder with Fishman on drums and it took me a while to get used to the drums.  They opened up with a couple of their original songs.  I think they were warming up for what came next.  I don’t know what it is but Paul Simon sounds real good as a bluegrass cover.  The Rum boys started to play “Gumboots.”  One of my favorite Paul Simon songs off of one of my favorite albums of all time, Graceland.  I was up big time for that song.  They added their own little twist to the song, which made it more enjoyable.  I heard another bluegrass band named Cabinet a couple months ago play another Simon song off of that same album.  That too was enjoyable.  Next song was another cover and quite possibly the best cover any band can do.  “Up on Cripple Creek!!”  Any band that covers The Band are definitely high up on my list.  From here on the crowd was getting rowdy and the band was definitely feeding off of our energy.  I am not sure what the last song of the first set was called, but it had something to do with a desert.  This song was so different than anything I heard Butter play before.  It was a lot more spacey song and they jammed a little with it.  This was definitely the highlight of the first set for me.  The banjo player get so emotional when he sings.  He was singing this song and it actually felt like we were in the desert as he was describing the song with the lyrics.  This ended the first set and I was in need of a little hoedown rest.

The set break was a typical one like usual.  Some of the Hobos were at this show, so I went over by them to chat with them.  I haven’t seen them since the last Railroad Earth show I been to which was about 4 months ago.  It was good to catch up as much as we could.  I was hanging out in front of the stage waiting for the set to start when I saw the guitar player, Nat, on stage looking for something on the ground.  I guess someone he knew came up to the stage and shook his hand and started to say how he really enjoyed the new setup with the drums.  Nat responded, “Yea.  It is amazing how I am more free now with the drums.  There is more space for me even though we added all of this equipment.  In the band before the drums I had to constantly be playing and could not take a rest.  Now, I can take a rest and no one notices.”  I thought to myself, the drums do disguise many things with the other instruments.  The conversation ended and I stayed standing by the stage just minding my own business.

Nat came over to me and asked me, ” Can I send you out on a mission?”

I said, “Yea, I am up to it.  I can do it.”

He said, “I need you to find two matchsticks for my guitar string.”

I know really understanding what that was said, “OK, what should I ask for.”

He responded, “I would start asking for matches from anyone.”

I said, “OK.”  I then took off on my mission from the guitar player.  I could not believe that a member of the band came up to me and asked me to go on a mission for him.  That is what I mean about how this band is equal with everyone.  Well anyway I went outside to the smokers to ask for some matches.  I asked a couple of friendly folks out side to no avail.  I decided to run to my car to see if any matches were there.  I looked around and found something I thought it was better than the matches.  It was a blow pop.  I though the stick would be perfect for being a guitar pin.  I ripped the loli pop part off and headed inside to let Nat know that I completed my mission.  I saw him on the way back from it must have been the bathroom and held it up in the air and gave it to him.

“Yes,” I thought to myself.  I was pretty happy for myself.  I am pretty sure he said something to the effect like that will work.  Thanks.  I walked off, got a beer, and waited for the second set.

They got on and started with a couple of soft and slower songs.  It wasn’t until three songs into the second set where the whole place started to freak out.  “Loose Lucy,” was what the boys was gearing up to.  The familiar notes gave it away and I was ecstatic.  This is one of my favorite Dead tunes that I rarely hear.  The crowd was singing along and the band was getting into it.  The fiddle player was singing and he was getting into it.  He was belting out the part, “I say thank you, For A Real Good Time!”  It was sooo good to hear that song being played.  I was up front singing right back to the band showing them how much I was enjoying myself.

Now, they ended “Loose Lucy” and went into a straight up bass solo.  The only person that was up on stage was the bass player who was boogeying with his instrument.  When does that ever happen especially at a bluegrass show.  It was a rarity to see.  The rest of this show was good with the crowd getting their boogey on.  I really love the banjo player in this band because he reminds me of Andy of Railroad Earth.  He plays all different kinds of instruments.  He is usually playing the banjo, but also plays the flute and the steel pedal guitar.  This allows for bands to sound so different with the just the change of an instrument.  Makes a band very flexible in what they can do.  HBR can do a lot because of the diversity of the band.  Just adding the drums makes it way more different.  I am happy to see this.  I really enjoy my Butter with drums now.  It is a different sound, but good.  A little more rock feel.  I do love the old school bluegrass they were, but change is sometimes good.  I think they can only get better.  I am looking forward to seeing them again.

I was real glad to catch this band one last time before I go away for a long time.  Bluegrass was what I needed since I haven’t caught a bluegrass show in a long time.  The Encore I  recognized from past shows.  “Bit by Bit,” is a song I heard before.  A nice song to send the show.  I was so lucky to see these guys and then Yonder in a week.  I am ending my concert going to straight bluegrass before I head on my adventure.  I would not have it any other way.